Thursday, February 27, 2014

Tip-toeing through My Magazines
What’s cooking? Rigatoni with Abruzzi-Style Lamb Sauce

I spent a few days last week going through a recent issue of Food & Wine magazine. Okay, so it wasn’t really a recent issue. It was the March 2013 issue, and I was just getting around to it. I do this sort of thing with my subscription to The New Yorker, too – I figure the articles are interesting and informative and they’ll still be that way in another six months. Although occasionally I’m reminded of a New Yorker cartoon I saw several years ago that pictured a man in the waiting room of a doctor’s office, saying to the receptionist, “I see by your copy of Newsweek that Lyndon Johnson has decided not to run for reelection.”

In any case, in the issue in question, the magazine was celebrating their 35th anniversary, and reprinting many of their favorite recipes from over the years. The cynic in me – oh, yes, I have one – suspects they did the same exercise on their 30th anniversary, and the 25th, and..., and maybe we’ll see it again for the 40th. But I haven’t been a subscriber that long, so the recipes were all new to me, and by the time I’d waded through the whole issue, I found that I’d earmarked at least a dozen. I got so excited, I called friends who live nearby and invited them for dinner the next night. (One of the best things about retirement is that you don’t have to wait until you can get a babysitter or it’s not a school night to entertain.)

Something about all this cold weather makes me want to be in Italy. I’m pretty sure it gets cold there, but you know they have all that red wine and pasta... We had a brief taste of spring in Texas last week, but it’s all of a sudden feeling like winter here again. And more snow for New Jersey yesterday morning. (Can’t those people get a break, for goodness sake?)

So one of the dishes that called out to me was a pasta dish from Marcella Hazan, featuring lamb in the sauce. Now, when you read a recipe in a magazine, you never really know if it’s exactly as the celebrity chef meant it to be, or if the magazine staff tweaked it in ways that didn’t help. For whatever reason – and no disrespect to Marcella – this recipe didn’t blow any of us away. But it had a good premise, so I played with it and last night made it again, just for my husband and me. I added garlic – imagine a recipe with lamb that doesn’t have garlic! – and some bacon for extra flavor, a zucchini for color and vegetation, and I cut the pasta way back to give the sauce room to stand out. We pronounced it quite good, and easy as well. In fact, there’s not much to do other than a lot of chopping. I served it with ciabatta bread, sliced and toasted with garlic butter, and steamed asparagus drizzled with an Italian vinaigrette. Just the thing for a cold evening.

For you winos out there, we paired the dish with a bottle of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.

Rigatoni with Abruzzi-Style Lamb Sauce

Based on a recipe by Marcella Hazan published in Food & Wine Magazine, March 2013

Serves 4-6.

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup chopped onion
1 large clove garlic (about 2 teaspoons), minced
2 ounces thinly sliced pancetta, finely chopped
1 ounce bacon, cut in ¼-inch dice
1 heaping tablespoon chopped rosemary
8-10 ounces boneless lamb, cut into ½-inch dice
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
½ cup dry white wine
One 28-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, with their juices
1 small zucchini, cut in ½-inch dice
12 ounces rigatoni pasta
⅓ cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese or Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving

The best flavor comes when the pieces of lamb are no larger than 1/2 inch.

In a large skillet over medium heat, sauté the onion in the oil, stirring frequently, until the onion is a pale gold (about 4 minutes). Add the garlic and continue to stir frequently for another minute. Add the pancetta, bacon, and rosemary and cook, stirring occasionally, until the fat from the pancetta and the bacon is rendered (the meat will still be soft).

Raise the heat slightly, add the lamb, and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and stir. Add the wine and simmer about 10 minutes, until it evaporates. Add the tomatoes and the zucchini and simmer, stirring occasionally and reducing the heat if necessary, for about 20 minutes until the fat begins to separate from the sauce.

At the end of cooking, you'll see little pools of oil sitting atop the sauce, especially around the edge of the pan.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot of rapidly boiling water (4 quarts) with 1½ tablespoons of salt. Stir often until the pasta is al dente.

Drain the pasta and immediately transfer it to a large warmed bowl. Toss with the lamb sauce and the ⅓ cup of grated cheese. Serve immediately, passing additional cheese at the table.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Sick of the Weather? Or Sick from the Weather? Either Way, This’ll Do the Trick
What’s cooking? Green and White Chicken Soup

The Kitchen Goddess has been a bit under the weather lately. So it was a rough way to spend Valentine’s Day, until I realized that what’s good for the Goddess can also be good for the Goddess’s husband. And as it’s way too painful to talk my mate through a recipe, I hobbled to the kitchen on my own and made a version of chicken soup that would satisfy both of us.

I don’t know what it is about chicken soup – in any form – that is so wonderfully soothing. Like wrapping your insides in a fuzzy blanket. And in this particular version, the collards add a heartiness that will improve your spirits all by themselves. You will likely not believe this, but the Kitchen Goddess has been known to grumble and emit the occasional snarl when she’s not at the peak of health.

By the way, if you are one of those people who can’t bear a brothy soup without rice or noodles of some sort, feel free to add them to this soup. Whatever makes you feel better.

Green and White Chicken Soup

Serves 4.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic diced
½ cup celery, diced
⅔ cup parsnips, diced
6 cups chicken broth
6 skinless chicken thighs (though I prefer also boneless), as much fat removed as possible
1 large bunch collard greens, washed thoroughly
1 teaspoon dried dill
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
salt/pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

In a large soup pot over medium heat, sauté the onion in olive oil for 4 minutes, without browning. Add garlic and sauté another 30 seconds. Add celery and parsnips and cook, stirring, for another 5 minutes.

Add the broth and the chicken thighs and slowly bring to a low simmer. Continue with the broth at a low simmer until the chicken pieces are cooked through, about 30 minutes. Kitchen Goddess note: Cooking the chicken too vigorously can result in an unattractive gray foam collecting on the surface of the soup. If you get some, just skim it off and lower the heat a bit.

In the meantime, ribbon the collard greens. Cut out the stems that run down the center of the large leaves; the tender young leaves in the heart of the collards don't need to be stripped. Stack 6-8 leaves on top of one another and slice into strips ½-inch wide.

Once the chicken is cooked through, remove it from the broth and slice or tear into bite-sized pieces. Return the chicken to the broth along with the collard greens, the dill, thyme, and bay leaf. Bring to a bare simmer and cook, covered, another 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the collards are tender.

Remove the bay leaf, stir in the parsley, and adjust the seasonings to taste (which may even include additional dill or thyme). Serve immediately.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Ultimate Comfort Food
What’s cooking? Gourmet Mac ’n Cheese

The New Jersey house -- where we knew what winter really looked like.

Brrrrrrrr! My nose is cold, my fingers are frozen, and I’ve taken to wearing socks everywhere in the house. This New Jersey weather is killing me. But wait – I’m not in New Jersey! I’m in Texas, where we came to get away from winter. Yet the temperature outside is 26º as I write – only 6º warmer than in New Jersey. Hello – come back to me, Texas weather!

What we’re missing here, of course, is the snow. Which is a good thing, as the whole damn city shuts down with even a forecast for anything frozen falling from the sky. For my part, if it’s going to be this cold, I actually have fond memories of being closed up in the house in New Jersey, watching winter make itself known. The snow muffles any noise from nearby traffic, and about the only sounds you hear are of little kids shouting to each other as they crunch around with their sleds. (Or of my large sons shouting at each other as they shovel the driveway.)

Wherever you are, if you’re experiencing a winter blast, it’s times like these that call for comfort food. To my mind, comfort food means warm, soft, hearty. So soups and stews, meatloaf, chili, and baked potatoes all fill the bill. But I know of no dish in the pantheon of great American comfort foods that satisfies like mac ‘n cheese.

About every 2-3 months, I find myself rooting around in my cheese drawer, wondering if anything there is even edible. The goat cheese has taken on some strange neon hues, and that piece of aged Gouda is so hard it scoffs at even my sharpest knife. Finally, I’ve found a way to use those cheese bits before they reach the penicillin/petrified stage.

The problem, usually, is that you have too much to toss without feeling guilty, too little to serve to any guests. Like whatever you had leftover from your Super Bowl cheese tray. You did save those leftovers, didn’t you?

The Cheeses (clockwise, from top left): Tillamook Sharp Cheddar, Brie de Meaux, Il Forteto Boschetto Tartufo (with truffles), aged Gouda, and French Roquefort.

So here it is, the ultimate Mac n’ Cheese. Fast, easy, delicious. And it’s not just the Kitchen Goddess telling you so – I test-drove it with my family over Christmas and again with a friend who claims to be a mac ‘n cheese fanatic. Rave reviews all around. Also from my hubby, which is not nothing.

Kitchen Goddess notes:

1. Aside from being incredibly easy (did I mention that already?), perhaps the best thing about this recipe is its flexibility. The photo caption tells you what I used in my most recent iteration, but the combination was completely different at Christmas, and yet equally delicious. Something about the mysterious flavor that comes through when you combine several really nice cheeses. Go for a balance of sharp and mild. (Too much blue will make you, well, blue.) The most recent time, I purposefully added that semisoft Italian cheese with the truffles in it, for the mushroomy flavor, which was grand. Of course, you can make it with one cheese only, but why would you?

2. Re the pasta – I believe it is a mistake to make this dish with your basic elbow macaroni. The photo above shows what I used most recently. Basically, you want something that most closely resembles a strange sea creature or one of those tropical pincushion flowers – the more little grabby arms each pasta piece has, the better it’ll hold onto your sauce. Try radiatori, which is shaped like radiators, or quadrefiore, a long shape with ruffled edges. If you can’t find one of those, try fusilli.

Gourmet Mac ‘n Cheese

Adapted from The Tasting Table.
Serves 5-6.

12 ounces pasta (radiatori, or quadrefiore, ... or at least fusilli)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus enough to butter the casserole dish
¼ cup flour
3 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon dry mustard
½ teaspoon Sriracha sauce
salt and pepper to taste
12-13 ounces assorted good quality cheese, grated and hard rinds removed (If you use only one cheese, I’d recommend a high quality cheddar, such as Tillamook.)
6 tablespoons panko breadcrumbs

Butter a 2-2½ quart casserole dish. Preheat the oven to 350º.

Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted water just until al dente. Drain and reserve.

While the pasta is cooking, heat the milk in a small saucepan just to the boiling point (without actually letting it boil). At the same time, melt the butter in a separate medium saucepan over medium heat. With a wooden spoon or spatula, blend the flour into the butter, stirring constantly for 2-3 minutes, making sure the mixture doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan and that the flour just reaches a buttery yellow stage. (This is a roux.)

Remove the roux from the heat and as soon as it stops bubbling, whisk in about 1 cup of the hot milk and stir vigorously – being sure to scrape any bits of the roux from the bottom and sides of the pan – until you’ve eliminated any lumps. Then add the rest of the milk all at once, continuing to stir vigorously with the whisk to fully incorporate it with the roux. Set the sauce over medium heat and bring it to a simmer, stirring constantly with your whisk until the sauce thickly coats the back of a wooden spoon, about 5 minutes. (This is a béchamel sauce.)

Remove the sauce from the heat and season with salt (¾-1 teaspoon) and pepper (¼ teaspoon). Add the dry mustard and the Sriracha. Add three-quarters of the cheese, and stir until melted.

Fold in the cooked pasta, and adjust all seasonings to taste.

Transfer the mixture to the casserole, and top with the remaining cheese. Sprinkle the panko crumbs over the top and bake until brown and bubbly, 35-45 minutes. Don’t over bake – if the panko hasn’t browned after 45 minutes, but the rest of the casserole appears to be cooked, you may want to run it under a broiler for a minute to achieve that toasty look.